BTS and Blackpink in the House: 5 highlights from Parliament

SINGAPORE – Parliament closed day 4 of the debate on the President’s Address, with 15 MPs delivering their speeches and several lively exchanges between MPs of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Workers’ Party (WP). Here are some highlights from the 6½-hour sitting on Thursday (Sept 3).

1. The Lego blocks of society

New MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said his maiden speech was inspired by his six-year-old son’s love for Lego.

Like the blocks that make up a Lego structure, each family that makes up society is important, he added.

“These blocks may come in different shapes or colours, just like our multiracial and religious society. But when connected together, they are stronger and more beautiful.”

He further said that to build a more cohesive society, Singapore must support families, which are akin to building blocks.

It must also strengthen the connections between these blocks and provide space for creative rebuilding, he added.

“Let us continue to play our part to rebuild creatively a more resilient, more inclusive and more vibrant society than ever before.

“Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. But if one part is defective, then everything may fall apart.”

2. WP’s Sylvia Lim responds to two ministers on race

Singapore has not yet arrived at a post-racial state, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Maliki Osman on Thursday.

Both stressed it was important to maintain awareness of and respect for differences.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who had called for a review of race-based policies on Tuesday, responded, saying Singapore must continually refresh its conversations on race to avoid becoming ossified.

Nobody is “pretending… there are no racial differences”. She then asked if there could be an open discussion on whether Singaporeans would prefer a race-blind pooled fund over race-based self-help groups.

Mr S. Iswaran (West Coast GRC), the first chief executive of the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda), asked if she was proposing to dissolve such groups.

“An amalgamation is an effective dissolution of the existing entity… Your proposition is we should have an ongoing dialogue in terms of how we can work closer together. That has been happening all along.”

3.BTS and Blackpink in the House

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) invoked Korean pop (K-pop) boy band BTS in his parliamentary speech on Thursday, saying the Government could learn a thing or two from its wildly successful virtual concert.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, BTS hosted a ticketed 100-minute live online concert in June that saw a peak of 756,000 concurrent viewers in 107 countries and territories and raked in a cool S$26 million.

“The BTS concert’s paid viewership of three-quarters of a million was the equivalent of 15 shows at a 50,000-seat stadium, but the concert was streamed from a much smaller venue,” said Mr Baey.

He compared the concert venue to the infrastructure provided by the Government and urged businesses and individuals to find innovative ways to thrive in a post-Covid-19 world. “The Government will have to be nimbler in offering different ‘venues’ so that ‘virtual concerts’ and other new formats could be staged,” he added.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who spoke next, could not resist declaring he was more of a fan of K-pop girl band Blackpink than BTS.

4. ‘OK boomer’ and the strawberry generation

First-time MP Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) succinctly summarised the differences in Singaporeans’ lived experiences over different generations in her maiden speech on Thursday.

Some of these differences have led to inevitable clashes among baby boomers, Generations X, Y, Z and Alpha, she added.

“OK boomer” – a dismissive phrase used by younger people as a retort to older people – and the “strawberry generation” label used to describe the younger generation as overly sensitive and easily bruised are examples of reductionist caricatures that “obfuscate the path to finding common ground”, she said, adding that this can lead to tension in workplaces and homes.

“If we truly want to harness the potential of youth, and tap into the experiences of seniors, then we must not be dismissive of their thoughts, dreams, and fears,” said Ms Nadia. She added that the middle ground, which has been carefully built up over the years, should be enlarged, not shrunk.

5. The heated debate after Jamus Lim’s speech

WP’s economist Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) made quite a splash on Thursday with his maiden speech, which focused on minimum wage and “compassionate policymaking”.

Several suggestions he made sparked the liveliest debate of the week so far, prompting questions and comments from seven PAP MPs, including Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Jurong GRC).

Associate Professor Lim’s fellow WP MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) also joined the fray to respond to comments made by Ms Gan Siow Huang, Mr Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Vikram Nair.

Prof Lim agreed, after the quizzing, that it was not the right time to implement a minimum wage but suggested it could be rolled out “after the storm has passed”. He said he did not know what level of minimum wage would be appropriate for Singapore, and suggested an independent panel be formed to study this.

The exchanges lasted 35 minutes before Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin called on the House to move on.

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